The 17 Islands Marine Park is just off the Flores’ mid-north coast in Riung, Indonesia and is a cluster of 20 small, pretty much-uninhibited islands just begging to be explored. The number 17 was chosen to signify Indonesia’s Independence Day (August 17th).
The islands are so rural that you may even spot some rare birdlife, monkeys, Mbou (a type of Komodo dragon) or even a hedgehog. The beaches of the 17 Islands Marine Park have the most crystal clear blue waters that are perfect for snorkeling over the coral reefs. Don’t forget about the white sandy beaches that are just screaming to be lazed upon, or you can even take a stroll at low tide and look for sea urchins, starfish and other wonderous creatures.
Exploring the 17 Islands Marine Park in Riung
If you are looking to get away from the helter-skelter of your everyday life, the absolute peace and quiet of the islands are exactly what you need.
Getting to the islands
It has to be said, getting to the 17 Islands Marine Park is not a piece of cake and is pretty time consuming so best to prepare yourself for a full day or two of travelling in Indonesia before you depart for your trip. It is also very rustic and quite uncomfortable at times, it is important to remember that Indonesia is very third world and so luxuries are few and far between.
To get to as close to Riung as possible in comfort, your best bet is to fly to Maumere Airport. There are twice daily flights from Bali but there are also regular flights that depart from Jakarta, Bali, Kupang and Surabaya.
From there the remainder of the trip is via a few different buses, a full busses. The first one is from Maumere to Bajawa for and is approximately 4 hours long. Next, you hop onto a bus that will actually take you to Riung. This particular bus leaves the terminal at 12 pm.
However, if you are staying in a hotel, most of the time the hotel concierge will organise for the bus to pick you up at the hotel, saving you a bit of hassle. This trip also takes about 4 hours, but often it can take 5 hours, that’s over and above the hour it takes for the bus to pick up all the passengers.
Just take note, foreigners are often charged more by the bus drivers so keep your wit about you and notice how much the locals are paying so that you don’t get ripped off. In saying that, though, there is no use getting into a full on fight with one of the locals about price, it is in your best interest to be polite.
If you don’t want to take the bus, you can rent a car and drive yourself there, or hire a driver to drive you there. However, it is not recommended, especially if it is your first time travelling to Riung.
Accommodation on 17 Islands Marine Park in Riung
- You need to remember that Riung is a very small, remote, rural village and so there aren’t any five-star resorts with wifi and other luxuries on the beach at all. Instead what you will find are a handful of simple cottages and self-catering homes. They are very simple and you shouldn’t be surprised if you need to pay extra for a hot shower or air conditioning. Most of them don’t even take reservations and so you almost have to hope for the best once you get there, but chances are that you will find somewhere to stay as not many people visit Riung because it is so difficult to get to, which makes it all the better for those who are there.
Two examples of some accommodation are:
- Nivana Bungalows: this is a cluster of 8 bungalows that have air conditioning as well as private bathrooms. Expect to pay around IDR 300,00 to IDR 350,000 per person per day. This includes breakfast every morning that will be served on your porch.
- Pondok SVD: this is a missionary run hotel that is close to the market. It is also located close to the generator that is very audible, especially at night. Because it is close to so much noise, it is not recommended that you stay there if you have sleeping problems. There are also crucifixes inside all of the rooms, so if you aren’t into that, probably best to give this one a skip. Rates at Pondok range from IDR120,000 for a single room with a fan to IDR300,000 for a double room with air conditioning. Trust us, you will want the air conditioning.
The small fishing village of Riung is the first that you will encounter when you arrive at the 17 islands and it really does give you a wonderful first impression of the area with all of its stilted houses scattered among the palm trees, it really is an island village.
There are wonderful markets to browse that sell deliciously fresh fish and seafood most days of the week, so no need to wonder what to do about dinner. If you don’t feel like buying your dinner, you can try your luck and give fishing a go. The locals are very friendly and are always willing to lend a hand.
Most of the population in Riung is part of the Bajo tribe. They are more commonly known as sea gypsies due to all of the time that they spend in the sea fishing. They are very friendly and accommodating and are always happy to chat to the tourists and tell them about their lifestyle and culture.
Although Riung does not have a beach (the fishing is done off the pier), the streets are coconut lined and there is a wonderful mangrove forest at the pier that is great to explore as it is filled with all sorts of creatures. It is a very rural village with limited amenities and only one ATM machine according to some travellers. The streets are very wide but not well tarred and so you will probably end up going everywhere by foot. This is not the end of the world as everything is so close together that they longest walk you take should only be about 15 minutes.
The Marine park
The marine park consists of 5 amazing little villages: Nangamese, Sambinasi, Tadho, Benteng Tengah and Lengoksambi. The park is considered a UNESCO World Heritage due to its incredible ecosystem on land and underwater. These small islands are not very populated as most of the population live in Riung. The marine park is lovely to explore because of its wildlife and so it is well worth taking your camera along for the trip.
Of course, when you come to an area like the 17 islands, you expect incredible beaches full of exotic fish and other creatures. You’ll be happy to know that that is exactly what you will find. The oceans that surround the islands are rich with underwater biodiversity and you will be absolutely amazed at what you see.
To really enjoy the marine life, your best bet is to do some diving or snorkelling. The water is crystal clear and so if you are keen on some underwater photography you will be ecstatic with the way that your images come out. If you are extremely lucky, you may even spot the Rose of the Sea.
This incredible phenomenon looks like a red rose bud on the ocean floor, but it isn’t even a plant, it’s actually a bunch of sea rabbits’ eggs that are tied together by a membrane giving it its bud-like appearance. The locals say that if you spot a rose of the sea is it is a sign of good luck so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for one!
If you don’t fancy being under the water, why not take a boat trip, they are just as magical and the views are spectacular. Each boat takes between two and six people and will cruise around the islands and stop at specific snorkelling spots if you decide that you do feel like a dip.
These trips also usually include going through the mangrove forest as well as some beaches. Often your captain will set up a fish barbeque on one of the empty beaches and slices open some coconuts for you to enjoy.
There are also boats that are made completely of fibreglass with glass bottoms so that you feel like you are floating on top of the ocean and can see all of the marine life, all without getting wet!
Not only does Riung have magnificent marine life, the mangrove forests is pretty remarkable as well. It is home to a large number of birds, insects and fruit bats.
The birds that you are able to spot in the Mangrove forest are absolutely incredible as some are endemic and others are endangered. Keep an eye out for species such as the parrot, black egret, eagle, white egret, cuckoos, blue ok and yellow chested sparrow. It really is a bird watcher dream come true!
If you enjoy the great outdoors or a good hike, why not try a trek through the jungle where you have the chance of running into a Timorese deer or even a Biawak Mbou? There are also marsupials hanging from tree to tree, grabbing the fruit which always brings a smile to one’s face.
The different islands
- As mentioned in the beginning of this post, there are actually 24 islands not 17 and each comes with their own set of attractions. Whether you prefer to just take things easy or if you would prefer a more adventurous holiday, there is an island for everyone, you just need to have all of the facts. Let’s take a closer look at each of the islands individually:
- Meja and Tembaga island: You will find beautiful soft corals and Acroporas in the oceans surrounding these two rocky islands. They are magnificently colourful due to the incredible marine flora and fauna which includes the Dakocan fish which is an endemic species that live on the rocky coral. Meja means “table” in Indonesia and the name is appropriate as the coral formation looks like a table while the fish that swim by look like the food about to be served on the table.
- Batang Kolong Island: if you fancy the sound of the Rose of the Sea mentioned earlier in this article, you definitely need to pay a visit to the Batang Koong islands. The waters surrounding these islands have a much higher number of Sea Rabbits in their waters and so you have a much greater chance of spotting a bud. Remember that the colour varies from red to orange and they can be small or all the way to 30 centimetres in diameter. Over and above the Rose of the Sea, the waters around Batang Kolong have huge amounts of coral and sea sponges where turtles like to hide so keep your eyes peeled for one of those while driving. Remember not to get too close as they are still wild animals
- Sui island: if you are and avid photographer or videographer, the best place for you to be is Sui island. It has a cliff underwater that is completely saturated with Acropora and many different rocks with all sorts of species of fish swimming around in magnificent colours. This makes for incredible photography, as do the magical sunrises and sunsets every day.
- Tanjung Toro Padang island: although it is still technically part of the Flores it is also the most western part of the marine park and so it is considered one of the islands. There are mainly acropora and corals in these waters and on land it is the home of Biawak Mbou, a similar species to the Komodo dragon just a little bit smaller. There are more beautiful islands than this one but in the same vein, there isn’t anything wrong with Tanjung Toro Padang at all.
- Rutong island: want to change things up a little and experience something different off the coast of Flores? Why not come to the Rutong island and take a dip when the thermal phenomenon happens. This is when the temperature of the ocean changes drastically; it is incredibly warm on the surface but about one meter below the surface, the water is absolutely freezing. If you can bear the cold, it is still a great snorkelling spot and well worth a visit.
- Tiga island: the islands word Tiga means “three” in Indonesia and the island is named this because when you look at it from a distance it looks like three islands, but they are actually three hills. This island is the most popular as it is so beautiful and has so many viewpoints due to the three hills. You are able to see all of the colour gradients of the ocean as well as the whole archipelago from the highest point. Again, this is a photographers dream and you will be able to capture many special moments on this island.
- Ontoloe island: the most interesting thing about this island is the mangrove forest that is populated with huge colonies of fruit bats. As creepy as that may sound, they are quite fascinating to watch and once the sun starts to set, they become very active and are quite the sight to see so get your cameras ready. You will also most probably see monkeys swinging between the trees, snacking on all of the fruits as well as a host of different species of birds.
- Kawat island: this is a great spot to those that are diving for the first time or aren’t very confident in their driving skills. It doesn’t have a very strong current and so it is much easier to control yourself when you are diving. This island also has some mangrove scattered along the beach so there are things for the non divers to do as well.
- Lainjawa island: want to see tonnes of incredibly unique fish? This is the island for you. You will be able to see Napoleon that can grow up to one meter long, giant sea eel that can be as long as two meters long as well as angelfish and Butana fish. If you have an underwater camera, now is the time to get it out.
- Wongkoro island: this island acts as an underwater barrier reef that is ten meters wide and is situated between Ontoloe and Toro Padang island. There is beautiful underwater scenery filled with corals and fish, a photographers dream! This is one of the most popular islands because of the reef and so if you were going to struggle to find accommodation, it would be here.
- Pata island: this island has whales living in its oceans and is absolutely spectacular as I am sure you can imagine. The best way to spot the whales is to explore the north side of the island either by taking a drive or hop onto a boat. A boat is always better as you can stop for snorkel breaks if you would like to. The best season for whale spotting is the rainy season as the warm water will guide them to Riung so take note of that when planning your trip.
Most of the accommodation is self-catering, although breakfast is usually included. You can find most of the items that you will need to prepare meals at the local markets and the food is so incredibly fresh that you won’t need to do much other than cook it. But if you would prefer to go out for your meals, there are some eateries to choose from.
There aren’t any five-star restaurants on the islands but that doesn’t mean that you can’t feast on delicious food. All of the food is literally straight out of the ocean and into the pan, you won’t find it any fresher than this! And after all the adventuring that you do during the day, you will be ravenous come dinner time. Take a stroll and stop by one of the local eateries. Here are some of our favourites:
- Pato restaurant: a one man band show that serves Indonesian food that isn’t too weird and wonderful. Basically, it’s a safe choice. The food is absolutely delicious and they are well priced. The only downside is that you will probably wait a little while to receive your food as everything is prepared from scratch, but that’s ok as you will probably end up making friends with the locals and other tourists. There must try dishes are the sweet and sour fried fish and the vegetarian pasta.
- Murah Mariah: located next to the Market of Riung this is another very reasonably priced restaurant that has a wide selection of dishes on its menu. You can expect to pay about IDR25,000 for a soup or veggie dish, with other dishes that have fish or meat in it being slightly more than that. The have a very tasty spicy sour fish soup as well as a squid satay and ginger sauce that is just melt in your mouth good.
- Cafe Del Mar: it looks like a bit of a tree house at first site so you may be apprehensive but if you are looking for a glass of wine, this is one of the only places on the island that serves alcohol even though it is very limited in its choice. In terms of food, the menu is also quite limited to a few types of rice, some vegetables and fish. Every now and then, there will be a “meal of the day” but that is all dependant on what is available in the markets. A full meal will cost about IDR50,000 per person, depending on the type of fish that you order.
All in all, although the 17 Islands Marine Park in Riung are a bit difficult and extremely time-consuming to get to with all of the different buses and what not, it really is a once in a lifetime trip that you will never forget. It is the absolutely perfect place to go to if you need to unwind and relax as there is literally nothing else to do but that. The next time you think about going to Indonesia, definitely consider going just off the coast of the Flores to visit these magnificent islands.